Friday, May 29, 2015

Oldest Murder Victim?

A 500,000 year old skull found in Spain may be the world's oldest murder victim. Whoever he (or she) was, he was killed by two blows to the front of the head, both of which cracked the skull.

Of course, we have absolutely no clue of the circumstances. The fact that the blows were to the front indicate this was probably a fight, not an execution or somebody sneaking up behind them with a sapper.

So, maybe it was a murder. It could also have been self defense.

Or, perhaps, the evidence of the world's first ever bar fight.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Real Dementors?

Well, they're wasps, but...

A new species of wasp discovered in Mekong Delta in Thailand has been named Apulex dementor.

Why? Because it likes to turn cockroaches into zombies and while cockroaches probably don't have souls to suck out...the idea is still kind of scary.

Maybe somebody needs to start feeding the roaches chocolate?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Species Lines?

Is the panther chameleon one species...or is it eleven? Scientists now think the latter.

It makes me question, as I often do, where we put the line between species. Man is a naming and classifying animal - the ancient Hebrews recognized this when they made the first task God gave him that of naming all the animals and birds.

But...when is a species a species? When it can't interbreed? Uh huh - wolves, dogs and coyotes interbreed with no problems at all. Various cat species do with the issue of male infertility (which I firmly believe was also the case with hominid interbreeding - the evidence certainly points that way). Birds do it all the time too - ask any falconer to give you the special virtues of lanner/saker hybrids.

We're now resorting to measuring genetic variance, but...

Maybe there's no such thing as a species. Maybe all there is is a discreet population that generally shares traits...something we more normally call a 'landrace' or 'breed.'

In other words - do our pattern seeking primate minds make things over complex and overly simple at the same time?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


So, I'm back from Balticon and mostly recovered.


The Writing Diverse Characters panel was standing room only with people sitting in the aisles. (If we do this again, we need a bigger room!)

The Being A Fan of Problematic Stuff was pretty well received too. It managed not to turn into a massive argument ;).

I'd also like to thank David Van Tassell for a great presentation on fight scenes - it was a film panel, but very useful to us prose writers too.

And I apparently need to keep reading a certain passage from Mother...

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Well, okay...

Last post before Balticon. Next post will probably be on Tuesday.

Here is my schedule, which is subject to change until, you know, I get there and get my table tent:

Friday 10:00pm - Being Out in Fandom
Saturday 11am - Writing Diverse Characters
Saturday 2pm - Targeting Submissions
Saturday 10pm - Off-Page Implications
Sunday 11am - The Best Worst B-Movies Ever Made
Sunday 1pm - Old Who For New Fans
Sunday 9pm - Being A Fan of Problematic Things
Monday 10am - Reading

See you all there!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


For those wondering: Yes I am going to Balticon.

No, I don't have my final schedule. I hope the one on the website right now is it.


I will have a limited number of print copies of Transpecial available.

I will also be, once more, giving away coupons for a free copy of The Silent Years: Mother. They're Smashwords coupons and can be redeemed through that website.

And I'll be in the bar. Or in the lobby playing Cards Against Humanity. Or...yeah. I'm easy enough to find.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Hey Makers!

Up for a serious challenge?

NASA and America Makes are hosting a contest to build a 3D printed habitat for use on Mars. 3D printing could allow a habitat to be constructed ahead of the arrival of astronauts from native materials - so obviously it's the way to go.

Oh, and over two million in prize money. Of course, entering won't be cheap. Or easy.

But if you're interested, go here to check it out.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Cold As A Fish?


The opah would like to differ on being cold.

This deep water fish has now been discovered to be an endotherm - just like us. It's not as much of an endotherm, but it does manage to regulate its body temperature to about 5C warmer than the surrounding water - even when at depth. Its a pretty big fish, too.

It does it by flapping its fins to generate and trap heat. And the advantage is, of course, that it can move faster than other fish in the deep water - all the better to eat them.

We do not know enough about the oceans. Let's do some more exploring.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


I was out riding last night. Specifically, I was riding a Quarter Horse gelding with a bit of an attitude.

One of the ways he sometimes expresses his attitude is by stopping before a jump and seeing if he can get you to "go ahead without him." This can result in an unpleasant fall. Or, worse, he'll duck out, and then you might fall into the jump support (Ow).

The trick to riding and jumping a horse that might change his or her mind at the last minute is to commit to the fence - but that also means you're more likely to fall off if they do.

On the other hand, if you don't commit, you aren't getting them over that jump.

So, this is a reminder:

If you commit to something, you may fail, and you may get hurt.

If you don't commit to it, you will fail.

Here's to committing and taking a few risks every now and then.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Trapped Astronauts?

With Russia temporarily halting manned missions after the latest Progress failure, there's no way to get people to the ISS (the station does have Soyuz-based lifeboats).

This is why we need to get the manned version of Dragon flying.

And as many others as we can manage. We can't keep relying on one system to get people into space - because accidents are always going to happen. (This, by the way, is why I think NASA is doing the right thing going with commercial systems - it allows for variety and, thus, greater safety and efficiency).

And then we need to get working on alternate launch systems. Access to space may seem to be an expensive luxury, but I firmly believe it's a key part of our future.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Ancient Con?

Or not.

A massive analysis of Egyptian animal mummies indicates that a third of them contained complete animals - and another third contained only a few bones, with the last third being complete fakes.

The theory is that the farms that bred animals for mummification stopped being able to keep up with the demand. So, the makers cheated. What's unclear is whether the people at the time saw this as fakery or a reasonable thing to do.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Age of Ultron

I finally saw it. And I hate to say it, but Whedon screwed up in one particular area.

I'm fine with Bruce and Natasha. I'm fine with it. But it came so far out of the blue that I...please, Joss? If you're going to do something like this, give us a flashback. Show us something. Don't just say "Oh, they're in love now).

Other than that? It wasn't up to the standards of, say, The Winter Soldier (which was as close to a perfect movie as I've seen lately), but it was definitely a lot of fun.

Elizabeth Olsen (yes, she is related to the Olsen twins) knocked it out of the park as Wanda Maximoff (sadly, showing up Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Pietro, who simply could not do the eastern European accent).

Paul Bettany was possibly the perfect Vision - the exact right balance of wisdom and naivete, the perfect note struck on "do AIs have emotions?" This was a character that worried me as to how they'd do it when he showed up (I do wish they'd let Pym keep Ultron and Vision as creations instead of handing them over to Stark - I don't like Pym much, but really, they took away the best part of him).

Oh, and nice setup for a pissed off Black Panther coming charging out of Wakanda after his vibranium. Uh, sorry...

Which brings me to some vague amusement. In our long running Buffy tabletop campaign we put an artifact quite similar to an Infinity Gem into a PC in order to keep it from being united with the others.

Mr. Whedon, have you been reading our campaign notes? ;).

In another note, I saw the first trailer for "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." and as a fan of the original I was impressed:

1. The trailer starts with Henry Cavill as Solo in the back of the car. I knew instantly which movie I was watching.
2. Armie Hammer IS Ilya Kuryakin. Dang it.
3. Thank you, THANK YOU for resisting the temptation to modernize it. It didn't work in the A Team, where the writers somehow thought they could slot out Vietnam and slot in the Gulf like they were different colored lego bricks. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. could only have been written (like some of the best Bond) during the Cold War, and the movie is apparently going to be a prequel, set in the early 1960s. A period piece, just as it should be. Now, can we have the tailor shop?

Friday, May 8, 2015

Spiders Are...

...freaking insane.

If you spray spiders with graphene, they'll process it and incorporate it into their silk.

Spider silk is already the strongest material known in nature. The graphene infusion makes it 3.5 times stronger. (Unfortunately, not all of the spiders were able to pull off the trick).

It also works with carbon nanotubes.

Are we going to end up making the space elevator tether from the silk of domesticated spiders?

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Giant bath tub?

There's a lake in Oregon which literally drains through a plughole every spring. In winter, it gets more water than can drain, but once the snow stops, this happens:

There are actually two plug holes - left over lava tubes from a past eruption. They aren't entirely sure where the water goes, but probably into an aquifer.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Rocket Science

SpaceX continues to impress me.

Their latest? A launch abort system that works throughout the ascent stage.

Traditional launch abort systems have worked by pulling the crew capsule clear from the launch tower. Once the rocket is above the tower, that's it. The system is detached and if anything goes wrong, you're dead...and many of us still remember Challenger.

The new system is called a "pusher" system. Engines built in to the crew capsule will fire to throw it clear of the rocket, aiming it out over the ocean, where it will splash down safety.

The same engines will, eventually, be used to land the capsule after trips, allowing for reuse.

Boeing is working on a similar system for their manned rockets.

This is why NASA should focus on science and allow businesses to design ships for them - it seems to be giving us a higher level of innovation and lower costs. And now, hopefully, higher crew and passenger safety.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

New Toy

So...yesterday my almost four year old Asus netbook decided to turn into a brick. A long story that involved an attempt to boot from a USB stick (I didn't even try to INSTALL a new OS. Apparently I'm just that klutzy some days).

So now I have a new Acer chromebook. Bigger screen, lighter, even faster boot time and nicer design. I haven't played enough with it yet to know how I really feel about the Chrome OS, but it's what tends to come on lightweights these days. (Ultra lightweights really got killed by the tablet market).

Now, does anyone know if the nice lady who sells laptop decals will be at this year's Balticon. There's this huge expanse of white on the lid and I can't stand it ;).

Monday, May 4, 2015

Beaming Up...

...and we lost another one. Grace Lee Whitney, who played Yeoman Janice Rand has died at the age of 85.

Her early departure from the series was because of alcoholism - which she got over (with the help of everyone's grandfather Leonard Nimoy) to return for the movies. She then devoted much of her life to helping other people with addiction problems.

The stars are vanishing one by one.

Friday, May 1, 2015

EmDrive Works In Vacuum

NASA has tested the EMDrive - the electromagnetic drive - in a vacuum chamber. And it still works. (But no, Daily Mail, it is not the same thing as an Alcubierre warp drive. Sigh).

If it works and scales up, it would make a trip to Mars feasible.

It will, of course, require that the ship have a nuclear power plant designed specifically for use in space. I still maintain that the best place to start in developing such is to look at the power plants currently use in submarines. And if you're worried about a nuclear reactor on your ship, again, submarines.

The next step is to test the drive in space - it's possible it's actually pushing against the Earths magnetic field. (Which could still be useful...a magnetic field based drive that produced enough specific impulse to get to orbit would be really nice).